College football Week 11 preview: Key games, keys to each

ByESPN Staff ESPN logo
Thursday, November 9, 2023

Week 11 has arrived and with it a ranked opponent for Michigan. The Wolverines put their perfect season -- on the field anyway -- on the line at one-loss Penn State.

The game also is significant for Penn State and coach James Franklin, who is just 3-16 against top-10 opponents. Another season of losses to both Michigan and Ohio State will raise bigger questions about Penn State's direction.

Other key games Saturday include Ole Miss at Georgia, Miami at Florida State, Utah at Washington and USC at Oregon.

Our writers provide three keys to each of those games, as well as how Week 11 can help Heisman candidates build their cases and quotes from the week.

Week 11: Three keys to key games

Michigan(9-0) at Penn State(8-1)

(Noon ET, Fox)

After another week of off-field drama, Michigan will experience its biggest test on the field at Penn State, which has won seven straight at home and boasts the nation's No. 1 defense against the run.

Michigan distractions:Michigan is still awaiting possible discipline from the Big Ten, which sources say is considering a multigame suspension for coach Jim Harbaugh. The distractions are there, but Michigan has handled them incredibly well, even long before the NCAA investigation. The Wolverines played their first three games without Harbaugh and have used the controversy and criticism around their program as galvanizing forces.

Penn State's run defense: For Penn State to take down Michigan, the Lions will need their elite run defense (just 60.3 yards per game) to hold up much better than it did in 2022, when Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum led a Wolverines' rushing attack that piled up 418 yards and four touchdowns. Franklin told me the team's defensive line depth is significantly better, and the group could regain Chop Robinson and Amin Vanover from injury.

Michigan's QB: Penn State's run defense is the priority, but it also must be aware of Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who could ignite his Heisman Trophy candidacy with a big performance. Franklin noted McCarthy's athleticism and ability to keep Michigan's offense "on schedule," preventing "exotic pressures on obvious passing downs." -- Adam Rittenberg

Ole Miss(8-1) at Georgia(9-0)

(7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Georgia has a chance to win the SEC East again if it can defeat the No. 9 Rebels at home. The No. 2 Bulldogs can clinch the division if No. 14 Missouri takes down No. 13 Tennessee earlier in the day. Regardless of what happens in the latter game, Georgia wins the SEC East with another victory over the Rebels. Georgia has won 10 of the last 11 games in the series; Ole Miss won the last meeting 45-14 in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2016. Remarkably, the Rebels are making their first trip to Sanford Stadium since a 37-10 loss in 2012.

Slow the run game: The Bulldogs are tied for second in the SEC in run defense, allowing 100 yards per game. But Georgia was surprisingly porous in last week's 30-21 victory against Missouri, allowing Cody Schrader to run for 112 yards with one score on 22 carries. Tigers quarterback Brady Cook added another 39 yards on the ground. The Bulldogs will face a similar two-way threat in Rebels tailback Quinshon Judkins, who is fifth in the league with 88.1 yards per game, and quarterbackJaxson Dart, who has 334 rushing yards with seven scores.

Plug the middle: Georgia will probably be without junior linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, who fractured his left forearm against Missouri. The All-Americanwas wearing a cast and sling after the game. Georgia coach Kirby Smart said earlier this week Dumas-Johnson was looking for "innovative ways" to keep playing, but it would be surprising to see him on the field against the Rebels. Sophomores Jalon Walker and Xavian Sorey Jr. and freshman C.J. Allen will probably be in the inside linebacker rotation more in Dumas-Johnson's absence.

Protect this house: The Rebels will be pulling for Kentucky to somehow upset Alabama on Saturday to remain in the SEC West hunt. They'll face a tall order in trying to beat Georgia at home. The Bulldogs have tied a school record by winning 24 straight games at home. They've won 12 in a row at Sanford Stadium against teams ranked in the AP poll. -- Mark Schlabach

Miami(6-3) at Florida State(9-0)

(3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

The Seminoles' remaining schedule suggests they'll finish unbeaten heading into ACC championship game. Miami is next up.

Miami quarterback: Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal was mum this week when asked whether Tyler Van Dyke would start at Florida State, saying personnel decisions like that stay in-house. The fact that Cristobal left some doubt is telling, beyond the fact there is gamesmanship involved headed into a big rivalry game. Van Dyke has thrown 10 interceptions in his past four games. Since missing the Clemson game with an undisclosed injury, he has struggled even more, with no touchdown passes, five interceptions and QB ratings under 36. Freshman Emory Williams led the Hurricanes to the win over the Tigers and could be a better option if Van Dyke is still struggling through injury.

Keon Coleman, Johnny Wilson: Florida State coach Mike Norvell also kept fairly mum on the status of the Seminoles' top two receivers, who both missed last week against Pitt with injury. So did backups Hykeem Williams and Deuce Spann. Without them, Ja'Khi Douglas stepped up with a 100-yard game, but it was difficult for the Seminoles to push the ball down the field with their receivers. Norvell said, "I do see us being in a much better spot."

The trenches: Miami is vastly improved on its offensive and defensive lines from a year ago, and how these matchups play out could set the tone. The Hurricanes average more yards rushing (176.5 to 164.4 per game) and more yards per rush (5.2 to 5.0) than Florida State. With the quarterback uncertainty, the Hurricanes could opt to pound the ball on a Florida State run defense that has allowed its share of big games this season. Of course, Florida State will more than likely pressure Miami to put the game on the quarterback. -- Andrea Adelson

Utah(7-2) at Washington(9-0)

(3:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

Utah will head to Seattle in a must-win situation if it is to keep its hopes of making it three straight Pac-12 titles alive, while the Huskies try to keep their undefeated record intact.

Setting the tone: As Utah showed against Oregon -- when it was blown out 35-6 -- it is not a team that is built to play from behind. When the Ducks started fast, that was pretty much game over. They can mix in the pass and find success, but when forced to become one dimensional, it's just not going to work. That's why it's important for the Utes to either stay close or build a lead early and remain in their comfort zone.

Heisman moment: As we'll touch on below, Heisman voters will be watching. If Michael Penix Jr. is Heisman-worthy, it means big performances in these types of games. All eyes will be on him to see what he can do against this tough Utah defense.

Utah offense: The Utah defense is as reliable as it comes. The offense? Not so much. This is where the game will be won or lost: when Utah has the ball. A 55-3 drubbing of ASU last week showed the potential is there, but it's an entirely different ask to trade scores with this UW offense at Husky Stadium. -- Kyle Bonagura

USC(7-2) at Oregon(8-1)

(10:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

Oregon hosts a bruised USC team that's now without defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who was fired following Washington's 52-42 win over the Trojans. Both teams technically have plenty to play for (USC needs to win out to have a shot at the Pac-12 title game) but it's the Ducks who are hoping for a CFP berth.

Keeping up with Caleb Williams: Though it hasn't been exactly the encore Heisman season many expected Williams to have, he's still good enough to overcome many of USC's shortcomings (not to mention he leads the country in touchdowns). The Ducks' defense will need to contain Williams when he scrambles outside the pocket. As Dan Lanning said this week, no quarterback holds on to the ball longer than Williams, and limiting him will be the key to a win.

The Bucky Irving factor: The Ducks running back has been a force this season, running for 821 yards and nine touchdowns at an average of nearly 7 yards per carry. USC's run defense, meanwhile, is one of the nation's worst, allowing 186 rushing yards per game. And while the Trojans will try to find a spark in the wake of Grinch's firing, Irving could be their worst nightmare.

Fighting to stay alive: USC, which has three losses in its past four games, somehow finds itself with an outside shot at making it to the Pac-12 title game. Despite the game's location -- the always tough Autzen Stadium -- and the Ducks being favorites, the Trojans should be playing with a nothing-to-lose mentality that could make them a dangerous matchup against a team that has bigger aspirations. -- Paolo Uggetti

Heisman hopeful spotlight

Jordan Travis, Florida State: The fact that Travis threw for 360 yards last week without his top two receivers in a 24-7 win over Pitt probably did not get as much attention as it deserved. Perhaps that is because everybody expects him to turn in an all-world performance every time he steps on the field, and that is more than likely part of the issue when it comes to attracting more Heisman attention. So is the fact there are playmakers all over the field for the Seminoles, and the balance they have on offense has meant he is not putting up the same gaudy numbers as other quarterbacks. But make no mistake, Florida State is nowhere near the CFP conversation without Travis. --Adelson

Jayden Daniels, LSU: Alabama didn't have much luck stopping Daniels last week until he was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter when Dallas Turner teed off on him and was hit with a personal foul penalty. Daniels is listed as day-to-day entering the Florida game (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) after being placed in concussion protocol. Missing one game probably wouldn't derail Daniels' Heisman candidacy, especially with how well he played against Alabama, but he would need a strong close to the season. Daniels has been one of the more dynamic players in the country. He's the national leader in total offense (3,476 yards) and second in TD responsibility (33). Even in the Tigers' three losses, Daniels has played lights out. It's difficult to see a scenario where he's not at least one of the finalists. -- Chris Low

Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State: The receiver, who is ninth nationally and leads the Big Ten with 914 receiving yards, has been on a torrid pace lately with 100-yard games in four of Ohio State's past five games. He heads into Saturday night's game against Michigan State (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) having hauled in at least one touchdown in five straight games -- including two apiece the past two weeks against Wisconsin and Rutgers. The Spartans' pass defense sits 10th in the conference (222.3 YPG) and Harrison went off in this game a year ago in East Lansing (seven receptions for 131 yards and three TDs). -- Blake Baumgartner

Bo Nix, Oregon: It's a nice bit of symmetry for Nix that as his Heisman case picks up, the super senior will be going head-to-head against the reigning Heisman winner in Williamsthis weekend. Nix has been on a tear this year, completing at least 70% of his passes in every game so far. He's got 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while being on the brink of crossing the 3,000-yard threshold. In other words, if Nix continues to build on his efficient numbers this weekend against Williams and the Ducks keep winning, his Heisman chances will only improve. -- Uggetti

Michael Penix Jr., Washington: Going up against Utah and the best defense the Huskies will see during the regular season, Penix has a big opportunity to make a statement. Since the win against Oregon, Penix's Heisman campaign has been mostly treading water -- including last week's 52-point outburst against USC in which the Huskies rode running back Dillon Johnson (256 yards rushing). Still, Penix leads the nation in passing by a wide margin (3,201 yards in nine games), is third in touchdown passes (26) and, perhaps just as importantly, is on an undefeated team. Some people don't believe this should be the case, but the reality is the Heisman Trophy is really impacted by team success. When there isn't an obvious candidate, team success is a major differentiator -- so the Huskies need to keep winning. -- Bonagura

Quotes of the week

"I'm a clean person, but I'm not a cleaner. Vacuums aren't my thing. I don't know anything about that." -- Michigan running backBlake Corum, denying any knowledge on his name appearing on an LLC for a business run by former football staff member Connor Stalions. Stalions, at the heart of the Michigan sign-stealing allegations, reportedly was sued by his homeowners association for running a vacuum refurbishing business out of his home.

"I am that committed, and we are all that committed to playing great defense here, and whatever it takes to get that done, that's what we're going to do." -- USC coach Lincoln Riley on firing defensive coordinator Alex Grinch this week following USC's 52-42 loss to Washington.

"There aren't a lot of answers out there about how to beat those guys in Athens. ... They have elite players, an elite staff, and we're playing them on the road. What's the hardest thing to pull off? This is it." -- Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, on facing Georgia this week.

"Well, I like whiskey." --Oklahoma Statecoach Mike Gundy, after saying he goes home and watches games with a notebook and a Diet Coke, when asked his favorite flavor of Diet Coke.

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